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CommUnityCare Sees Record Number of Patients

CommUnityCare Health Centers served nearly 130,000 patients in 2022– a milestone in the history of the health system. The vast majority of our patients identify as racial or ethnic minorities and fall at or below 200% of the federal poverty line.

CommUnityCare recognizes the number of non-medical drivers of health that make it harder for underserved communities to seek quality healthcare, like cost, transportation, and health literacy. This is why health equity sits centerstage for us.

An equity lens allows us to properly identify populations within Austin and Central Texas with the greatest health disparities and needs to help increase access to care. We work with community partners to implement important interventions needed and reduce barriers.

For example, last year we launched a partnership with Black Men’s Health Clinic to help increase trust in and access to health care for men of color.

We also began a Doula Pilot Program to help support Black patients through pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. Factors such as access to quality healthcare, underlying chronic conditions and implicit bias contribute to the disparities affecting black mothers more than other racial and ethnic groups. Understanding these factors is important to be able to serve patients.

And we were able to, for the first time, provide school-based care, beginning with Akins High School in the Austin Independent School District.

Instead of simply treating illnesses that arise due to inequities, our mission is to strengthen the health and well-being of the communities we serve. We are striving to see even more underserved patients in 2023 as the demand for quality, affordable, nonjudgmental care increases.

AUSTIN, TX – CommUnityCare Health Centers has been selected, in conjunction with Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, as the Grand Prize recipient of the 2023 80% in Every Community National Achievement Award. The honor singles out individuals and organizations for dedicating their time, talent, and expertise to advance colorectal cancer screening rates to 80% or higher across the United States in an equitable manner. The award is given by The National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT), founded by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Through an innovative and collaborative partnership, CommUnityCare and Dell Med have made significant efforts to ensure more people in Central Texas, especially the underserved patients that CommUnityCare serves, get screened for colorectal cancer. In the United States, the lowest colorectal cancer screening rates occur among people with limited access to healthcare including those who are uninsured.

During its first year alone, the program doubled the percentage of patients screened for colorectal cancer from 18.4 to 37 percent. Currently, up to 44 percent of patients have been screened. The initiative has been made possible by multiple grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

“The success of this colorectal cancer screening initiative is in large part due to the help of our amazing partners at Dell Medical School,” said Dr. Nicholas Yagoda, Chief Medical Officer at CommUnityCare — the largest nonprofit community health center in Central Texas with 28 locations in and around Austin. “Our shared vision to help underserved populations has improved the health outcomes among our most vulnerable patients. We are honored to receive this grand prize in collaboration with Dell Med.”

“Our partnership with CommUnityCare has helped numerous patients get screened, and has been implemented in a way that improves health care equity,” said Michael Pignone, M.D., MPH, chair of Dell Med’s Department of Internal Medicine, Co-Program Leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control program at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes, and Program Leader for the CPRIT awards.

In 2017, Pignone spearheaded a collaborative team with members from Dell Med and CommUnityCare to launch a program that mails colorectal cancer screening tests, known as fecal immunochemical tests (FIT), directly to patients’ homes. The screening kits are supplemented with low-cost text message and letter reminders to prompt patients to return the test. For those patients who screen positive, a CommUnityCare bilingual patient educator and navigator offers resources and support through the process of completing a colonoscopy, as recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force.

The impactful and cost-effective program was implemented throughout CommUnityCare Health Centers, offering a new way for patients to get screened for colorectal cancer, potentially lessen the number of colorectal cancers, and lighten the burden of treatment. Finding cancers early improves prognosis and saves lives.

The program has subsequently been expanded to other systems in Central Texas. Efforts are ongoing in Texas and across the country to disseminate similar programs to other health systems, especially for underserved populations facing financial barriers and limited access to these critical preventive services.

Join CommUnityCare and Dell Med on March 23, 2023 from 1-2 P.M. CT for the March 2023 Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Webcast to learn more about the ongoing efforts in the Colorectal Cancer Screening Program and to celebrate the program’s success.

 

 

AUSTIN – CommUnityCare, the second largest community health center system in Texas made of up 28 primary care, behavioral health, and dental clinics, today named Abayomi “Yomi” Fabiyi as the Vice President of Human Resources and member of its executive leadership team. Fabiyi brings more than 15 years of experience in H.R. management.

“CommUnityCare’s continued success is a direct result of our dedicated staff,” said Jaeson Fournier, CEO and president of CommUnityCare. “As we are acutely aware, engaging, retaining, and finding people has become more challenging than ever in healthcare, but Mr. Fabiyi is the right person to help us navigate an ever-evolving landscape at a time of significant growth for CommUnityCare. His wealth of experience in healthcare leadership and organizational culture in both hospital and community settings– and his deep commitment to diversity and inclusion—will benefit our more than 1,200 employees.”

Fabiyi will oversee daily human resource operations across CommUnityCare’s 28 health centers in Central Texas and manage onboarding and staffing at new clinics opening in 2023.

Most recently, Fabiyi served as the Director of Human Resources at UNLV Health in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has held senior roles at Providence Health System in Washington, D.C. (a member of Ascension Health System), Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center (a member of Universal Health Services, Inc.), North Vista Hospital (a member of Prime Healthcare) and Western Arizona Regional Medical Center, a member of Community Health Systems. He also worked for ESPN as a Senior Diversity Specialist at its corporate headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.

“We all believe equity to be a central part of our healthcare mission,” said Jeannie Virden, Chief Human Resources Officer at Central Health, which provides HR support for CommUnityCare as an affiliated member of the Central Health enterprise. “Equity applies not just to patients but to our workforce—something I know Fabiyi feels strongly about. I am thrilled he is joining our partners at CommUnityCare.”

CommUnityCare served over 129,000 unique patients visits in 2022 and is scheduled to open new locations this year in East Austin, Pflugerville, Del Valle, and Hornsby Bend with support from Central Health, Travis County’s local healthcare district.

Fabiyi attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he majored in Agricultural Business Management and Ashford University where he received a bachelor’s in Organizational Management.

“I’m extremely honored and excited to join the CommUnityCare team,” said Fabiyi. “I look forward to making sure we not only find the best talent out there, but also continue to create a positive work environment and an inclusive, diverse culture where our dedicated team members can feel engaged and provide excellent care for our patients.”

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Since 1988, December 1 has been recognized as World AIDS Day. It’s a time for people to unite worldwide in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and commemorate those special people in our lives who were taken away much too soon because of AIDS.

Community members and activists have done amazing work in the decades since the start of the HIV epidemic. At the same time, much work is left to do for a world without HIV.

Everyone deserves access to life-saving whole-person primary care, including sexual health care. Today, HIV is considered a chronic manageable condition, if people have access to the right tools and resources. Yet, the HIV epidemic rages on. In Texas, one in three people newly diagnosed with HIV identifies as black or African American. Two in five are Hispanic or Latino.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically interrupted the world’s efforts to end HIV. Testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections had declined significantly since the start of the pandemic and many sexually transmitted infections are on the rise here in Texas.

At CommUnityCare’s David Powell Health Center patients receive inclusive, person-centered care that includes comprehensive sexual health care, PrEP, HIV testing and treatment. Regardless of who you are, who you love, where you come from, or what language you speak the care at CommUnityCare’s David Powell Health Center is both affirming and inclusive.

For more information visit https://www.davidpowellhealthcenter.org

 

 

 

Central Health’s Kuang Named Humanitarian of the Year

(Austin) – Dr. Audrey Kuang, Central Health’s director of high-risk populations, was named Humanitarian of the Year last Thursday night by the Travis County Medical Society (TCMS) at the group’s annual awards dinner.

Dr. Kuang joined Central Health in 2022 and was among the first physicians hired by the hospital district to provide direct care to patients, specializing in care for Travis County’s unhoused population. She completed her undergraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her medical studies at the University of Chicago-Pritzker School of Medicine. She then completed her residency training in Internal Medicine at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California, where she also served as chief resident.

Prior to becoming part of the Central Health team, Dr. Kuang joined the staff of Central Health-affiliated CommUnityCare in 2017 as an associate director and has served as the subject matter expert for individuals experiencing homelessness. Since her arrival in Austin, she has also served as an assistant clinical professor within the Department of Population Health at the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.

“I am incredibly grateful to TCMS for this great honor and am deeply humbled by this recognition,” Dr. Kuang said. “Homelessness puts a face to all the broken and dysfunctional systems that exist, and my greatest joy comes from seeing our community come together with the resources we each have to help relieve suffering, address inequity and help our patients reach their goals. This award is not possible without Central Health’s incredible support and CommunityCare’s Healthcare for the Homeless team, which is doing the work on the frontlines, rain or shine, fighting for our patients and for health equity.”

Among Dr. Kuang’s accomplishments with Central Health and CommUnityCare:

  • She led the clinical team that provided initial local drive-through COVID-19 testing during the shocking and fearful outset of the pandemic.
  • She led care in the temporary shelters for Texas refugee neighbors in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, caring for similar populations after subsequent storms, regardless of patient location or condition.
  • During Texas’ devastating winter storm of 2021, when travel was treacherous and resources scarce, Dr. Kuang drove to the few shelters open to personally care for those experiencing homelessness, often caring for frostbite and exposure complications in addition to ensuring continuity of their chronic disease management.
  • She has delineated partnerships and protocols and care pathways for individuals transitioning from a hospital to a post-acute clinical environment or even back to the streets to ensure that patients have a one stop access point to the resources they need.
  • Her latest initiative is providing expertise and vision to the build of respite service for uninsured individuals discharged from the hospital who need a safe space to heal.
  • Her work ties in directly with Central Health’s Healthcare Equity Plan, which was launched in February to bring healthcare services to traditionally underserved and lower-income populations in Travis County.

Dr. Alan Schalscha, chief medical officer of Central Health and himself a winner of the same honor in 2019, said Travis County is fortunate to have someone with Dr. Kuang’s drive to serve low-income and vulnerable populations.

“Dr. Kuang  serves the clinically complex and the most under-resourced,” Dr. Schalscha said. “She is a system designer and a fierce patient advocate. Our community is so fortunate to have Dr. Kuang as a caregiver, visionary, advocate, colleague, and friend.”

Dr. Kuang said Dr. Schalscha has served as a great role model for her.

“He has helped me grow as a leader and believed in this work, and wholeheartedly supports bringing care to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our community,” she said.

In addition to Dr. Kuang’s honor, Dr. Mike Stefanowicz, sexual health associate director with CommUnityCare, won the “Ruth M. Bain Young Physician Award.”

Other award winners from the evening were:

Physician of the Year: Sarmistha Hauger, MD 
Lifetime Achievement: James McMichael, MD 
Humanitarian Award: Dave Clarke, MD 
Ruth M. Bain Young Physician Awards: Lauren Gambill, MD 

CommUnityCare Elects New Board Member Isaac Sanchez

Isaac Sanchez has been elected to serve on the CommUnityCare Board of Directors. Sanchez has a background in hotel management and is now retired. He is a proud member of the LGBTQIA community and has been actively involved in raising AIDS awareness. He joined Austin Pride in 2008 and has been serving as a co-chair since 2011. Sanchez also spends time lending support to the Austin International Drag Festival and the AIDS Candlelight Memorial Service. He also enjoys volunteering his photography skills to these organizations.

Sanchez is excited to serve on the board of directors to be an advocate for increasing access to health services.

Sanchez moved to Austin in 1997, originally from McAllen, Texas. He graduated from McAllen High School in 1975.

CommUnityCare Awarded Accreditation from The Joint Commission

AUSTIN – CommUnityCare Health Centers, the second largest nonprofit community health center system in Texas, has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Ambulatory Care Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with The Joint Commission’s performance standards. The Gold Seal is a symbol of quality that reflects a health care organization’s commitment to providing safe and quality patient care.

CommUnityCare underwent a rigorous, unannounced onsite review in July. During the visit, a team of Joint Commission reviewers evaluated compliance with Ambulatory Care standards spanning several areas including environment of care, infection prevention and control, leadership, medication management, and rights and responsibilities of the individual.

The Joint Commission’s standards are developed in consultation with health care experts and providers, measurement experts and patients. They are informed by scientific literature and expert consensus to help health care organizations measure, assess, and improve performance. The surveyors also conducted onsite observations and interviews.

“As a private accreditor, The Joint Commission surveys health care organizations to protect the public by identifying deficiencies in care and working with those organizations to correct them as quickly and sustainably as possible,” says Mark Pelletier, RN, MS, chief operating officer, Accreditation and Certification Operations, and chief nursing executive, The Joint Commission. “We commend CommUnityCare for its continuous quality improvement efforts in patient safety and quality of care.”

The accreditation applies to CommUnityCare’s almost 30 health centers in Travis County and surrounding areas.

“Whether your income is in the highest bracket or the lowest, everyone wants to know they are receiving the highest quality and safest medical care at their doctor or dentist’s office,” said Jaeson Fournier, CEO of CommUnityCare. “That’s why The Joint Commission’s independent and rigorous review of our services is so important. It gives patients peace of mind and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our clinicians, nurses, and care team members and demonstrates our commitment to continuously improving our health care services as we strive to achieve greater health equity for all, but especially for our low income and uninsured patients.”

Patients and community members can go online and download the quality report here.

Accreditation is required for hospitals that participate in federal health care programs and optional for community health centers.

As the largest safety net healthcare provider in the Austin region and one of the 1,373 federal Health Center Program Grantees nationwide, CommUnityCare sees 130,000 unique patients, representing 460,000 patient visits each year.

CommUnityCare’s David Powell Clinic, center of excellence for HIV care, also received a new certification by The Joint Committee as a Primary Care Medical Home, a designation that means a health institution focuses on the whole person and respects each patient’s needs, culture, and values.

“We provide communities traditionally left behind with inclusive, non-judgmental care– regardless of income,” Fournier said. “As importantly, we strive toward bringing health equity to these communities by knocking down traditional barriers, like race, ethnicity, and language.”

Cristie Pellegrini Named CommUnityCare’s Vice President of Pharmacy Services

CommUnityCare announced today that Cristie Pellegrini, RPh, MHA, has been promoted to Vice President of Pharmacy Services and will serve on the senior executive team. Pellegrini will continue leading CommUnityCare’s pharmacy program, which includes oversight of the health system’s three pharmacy locations and medication management at its 28 clinics.

“Throughout her more than four years with CommUnityCare, Cristie has consistently enhanced our increased pharmacy services and programs with an eye to ensuring that our patients continue to access the life-sustaining medications they need,” said Jaeson Fournier, CEO of CommUnityCare Health Centers. “She has dedicated her career to serving the underserved community by increasing medication access and striving for health equity.”

Pellegrini has worked in the health center space for more than 20 years and is an expert in the federal 340B program to maximize patient access to affordable medications.

In her previous role as CommUnityCare’s Director of Pharmacy, Pellegrini added a generic price list option for patients, increased access by quadrupling the number of contracted pharmacy access points in Travis County and surrounding areas, added a new in-house pharmacy, and coordinated a diverse group of healthcare providers in drawing COVID-19 vaccines in support of large-scale vaccination events.

Pellegrini will continue to oversee the pharmacy team and Patient Assistance Program, as well as support CommUnityCare’s clinical pharmacist services including medication therapy management.

“CommUnityCare has grown substantially over the past five years in terms of our overall revenue and number of patients seen — now at more than 125,000,” said Fournier. “Cristie has been among those at the helm of this growth. I am looking forward to Cristie’s continued leadership in helping us achieve greater health equity a reality in Central Texas.”

She received her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Rutgers University and completed her Master of Healthcare Administration at the University of Southern California.

CommUnityCare Health Centers Participates in Nourishing Black Communities Roundtable

Tara Trower, chief strategy officer for CommUnityCare, recently sat on a panel focused on creating racial equity in the food system. The panel, “Nourishing Black Communities,” explored community-based commitments to providing nutritious foods and discussed how individuals can take steps to address barriers to quality food access.  

“As the affordability issue changes in Travis County, such as our Black and Brown communities moving further and further out, the transportation and time puzzle as connected to food is more imperative for us to solve,” said Trower. 

The panel, cosponsored by Umoja Food and the Black Healthcare and Medical Association, discussed the historic ways Black and Brown communities have been underserved, overlooked, and riddled with barriers and how these communities remain impacted in the present day.  

“I think the mistake that a lot of people make with our populations is that they are not interested in health, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Trower. “Really, it’s about the choices they need to make to survive.” 

Access to basic necessities varies across the country. Communities of color unfortunately often fall into geographical areas that experience a lack of access to grocery stores.  

“Here locally [in Austin] there’s one half of the city where there are probably 55 supermarket outlets and east of the interstate there are maybe five,” said Trower. “So, the question not only arises do ‘I have the money’ but do ‘I have the ability’ to get there on a regular basis. We have looked into models that provide food boxes during their visit to the doctor but that does not solve for the fresh produce.” 

CommUnityCare Health Centers served 125,278 patients in 2021, and 86% of those patients identified as racial or ethnic minorities. Ninety-six percent of patients fell at or below 200% of the federal poverty level guideline.  

To watch the full Nourishing Black Communities Roundtable Discussion with Umoja Food for Health, please visit https://umojasupply.com/ 

By Dr. Nicholas Yagoda

You may have heard mention in the local news or social media about young people in Central Texas overdosing on the drug fentanyl.

What you may not know is that many of the victims had no idea they were taking fentanyl, a tasteless opioid drug similar to morphine, but much more potent. Compared to other opioids, fentanyl is particularly dangerous because it can be deadly in extremely small doses. How deadly? The amount of fentanyl that can balance on your pencil point can fatal and the drug can take many forms — pill, powder, patch, solid or liquid. There is no way to make sure fentanyl is evenly distributed, so each pill can be the one that causes an overdose.

In recent years, an increasing supply of illegal drugs combine fentanyl with other more well-known drugs, the ones that young people often experiment with at parties or in friend groups. Many individuals have no idea what they are consuming. It can be made to look like other well-known drugs such as oxycodone, Percocet, Xanax or even Adderall.

Some versions of the drug can resemble candy – think Sweet Tarts and other small, colorful candies — as a way to target teens and young adults. Physicians and school officials are asking for increased vigilance, especially as music festival season and Halloween approaches. Teens should never share medications, and even items that look like candy should be wrapped in known commercial packaging before consumption.

Last year in Travis County, 118 people died of fentanyl overdoses, and the vast majority were accidental. This year since June, four Hays County high school students have died of fentanyl-related overdoses. For reference, more people in Travis County died of drug overdoses in 2021 than died in traffic accidents, falls or drowning. The increase caused Travis County commissioners to declare the opioid problem in the county a public health emergency.

The Austin Independent School District is working on a plan and awareness campaign and student resource officer carry naloxone (Narcan), the drug that can neutralize the effects of an overdose to give time for someone to seek medical care. Other districts, including Eanes and Hays, have Narcan available in their school nurses offices.

Families who have reason to suspect that a loved one may be at risk for fentanyl overdose due to suspected or known drug use can access Narcan without a prescription at local pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS. Some providers, including CommUnityCare Health Centers, can provide Narcan to patient families and are working toward wider community distribution this Fall. Organizations in the state of Texas can obtain Naloxone at www.morenarcanplease.com.

Additional safety tools include fentanyl test strips which detect this potentially fatal substance if used to lace or as a substitute for other drugs. However, these potentially lifesaving test strips are not yet available legally in Texas.

This video shows how to recognize and respond to these symptoms of overdose:

  • Difficult or not able to awaken
  • Slow or no breathing
  • Unresponsive
  • Bluish or pale lips and fingernails
  • Limp body
  • Pale or clammy skin
  • Vomiting or foaming at the mouth

Please call 9-1-1 immediately, start giving rescue breaths, and administer Narcan, if available. For more information about how to combat fentanyl and opioid use in teens, or to access support and treatment options, call the CommUnityCare Addictions Recovery team at 512-978-9401 or visit www.soberaustin.com.

Dr. Yagoda is chief medical officer at CommUnityCare Health Centers.